Why Children Behave Poorly or Shut Down
There are countless factors that can contribute to the reasons why your child might be struggling or demonstrating concerning behaviors. But it might help to know your child is going through a few things developmentally and that the inability to achieve certain goals at their stage of development is a common reason why most kids struggle in childhood. Getting a consult with a Child Therapist can help you know how to understand and navigate these goals well.
Major Goals for Children to Accomplish
Goal #1: Stable Attachments
Healthy attachments are the name of the game for young children. Without a clear sense of self or identity at an early age (something that develops during their teen years), children’s primary task is to build and secure attachments with parents, siblings and consistent figures in their life. These relationships can be thought of as “anchors” that ground a child’s reality and identity. Stable and consistent environments are also anchors that help children develop a sense of normalcy and predictability. While not as important as relationships, a child’s environment is still a major factor in determining their ability to attach well in the early years.
If any of these relationships or environments in life are volatile or unstable for any reason, their sense of self and safety becomes unstable as well. It’s important to understand that what is tolerable for us as adults (changes in relationships and environment) can be completely destabilizing and life-shattering for children. Even if you perceive your child’s relationships to be intact and stable, if they perceive instability, problems with their behavior can easily and often do occur.
This is why it’s so important to know how to enter into a child’s reality and to know how they perceive their world. Traditional methods of talk and communication aren’t effective with children since they aren’t developmentally capable of expressing their reality to adults. Rather, skilled play therapy becomes necessary to understand and interpret a child’s reality and to know what areas of life and relationships are most unstable and in need of repair.
Goal #2: Emotional Vocabulary That Matches Their Experience
Mad, sad, happy, and afraid…these are the words that constitute the bank of emotional vocabulary for most children. Sometimes, these words are enough for children to express themselves and to understand their world, but sometimes their experience requires more words than they have. It’s a common and healthy human exercise to process and find ways to express or describe how a person experiences life. There are times where children are tasked with experiencing more than they’re capable of expressing, let alone understanding. Again, this is where play therapy becomes an extremely helpful tool. Because children aren’t able to learn or understand more complex words that match their emotions and experience, play therapy helps to provide a creative avenue for them to express themselves and a way for therapists to better understand the message their expression is communicating.
Goal #3: Social and Peer Connections
Besides establishing healthy attachments with adults in their life, children must begin to explore and engage in the task of building connections with other children in their age range. Even at a young age, children start to wrestle with the tension of understanding their own sense of self and boundaries while creating connections with other children. Here, power struggles and experiencing conflict are common place. It’s not abnormal for children to experience anxiety and difficulty with this task, especially in our society where bullying and shaming occur more often than we’d like.
Goal #4: Coping Skills for Life Changes
Changes are unavoidable, whether it’s moving, friends or family leaving, or divorce. As important as healthy attachments and a stable environment are for children, having healthy coping skills is critical for children to adapt when changes happen that are beyond their control.
It’s not uncommon for children to exhibit problem behaviors when they lack healthy coping skills to deal with the stress and uncertainty of change. Counseling can and is purposed to help children develop these skills so they can begin to manage and adjust to their changing environments with greater ease and a sense of control.
The Sooner the Better
It’s hard sometimes to tell if your child is in need of counseling. Sometimes acting out and problem behaviors could just be the normal part of your child’s development, and with time your child will adjust and grow. But if you know they have experienced any difficulties in the goals outlined above, or if you just need to make sure by having an objective and trained professional help evaluate your child’s condition, then it’s best to reach out and make an appointment for an evaluation.
t’s far better to address any potential issues with your child now than it would be to wait until their environment or behavior worsens. We have a number of trained play and child therapists who can help you and your child.